First Kosovo refugees flown out of Macedonia
April 5, 1999
SKOPJE, Macedonia (CNN) -- A first group of about 150 Kosovo refugees was flown out of Macedonia to Turkey on Monday evening. But aid agencies said tens of thousands more refugees remained stranded in a cold and muddy no man's land between Yugoslavia and Macedonia, without proper food supplies and increasingly prone to disease.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said Monday it was vital to get the 85,000 refugees out of the no man's land, which has been barred to international aid agencies by the Macedonian authorities, who have been moving slowly in registering the incoming wave of exhausted and often traumatized refugees.
However, CNN Correspondent Mike Boettcher managed to cross into the refugee mass near the Macedonian border area of Blace. He observed people apparently suffering from bad health and sickness.
Some ethnic Albanian refugees said that a fair number of people were sick and that some had died.
"We need to get these people out," UNHCR spokeswoman Paula Ghebini said.
"It is terrible there. It is extremely muddy. The rain is not helping. We have already weakened people who went through a harrowing experience for four days. They waited at the border; they have not eaten," she said.
The UNHCR, which is coordinating aid efforts with NATO, said Monday that refugees were now being moved to the newly established transit camp in Brazda, near Blace, where they received food aid, medical assistance and shelter.
NATO said Monday it was rushing 31 flights to the Kosovo crisis region to provide 200 tons of emergency food aid to help tens of thousands of refugees huddled on the Albanian and Macedonian border.
European Union countries have begun flying food, tents, medical supplies and other equipment to Kosovo's neighbors, Albania, Macedonia and the Yugoslav republic of Montenegro.
According to the UNHCR, nearly 400,000 refugees have now fled Kosovo since March 24. Of those, 226,000 are in Albania, 120,000 in Macedonia, 35,700 in Montenegro, 7,900 in Bosnia-Herzegovina and 6,000 in Turkey.
Macedonia tent city goes up
NATO troops from Britain, France and Italy were setting up tents at Brazda, where eventually about 100,000 refugees were to take shelter.
The tent city will serve as one of two holding centers before the refugees are ferried to airports to be flown to other countries.
NATO civilian spokesman Jamie Shea told a news conference in Brussels Monday that "those (refugees) who need the most urgent attention" would be evacuated to a number of countries.
The United States has announced it will take in about 20,000 refugees, and other NATO members said they would put up 100,000 others.
Shea said that, although some NATO countries have agreed to take in refugees, they do not intend to allow the ethnic Albanians to stay indefinitely.
"Clearly, we want the refugees to be able to go back quickly. Those NATO governments who have agreed to receive those refugees have made it clear that this is on a temporary basis," said Shea, reiterating that NATO was insisting the Yugoslav government allow the return of the refugees to restore a multi-ethnic Kosovo.
NATO troops were also setting up an aid camp beside the airport in Tirana, Albania, Monday to handle relief operations.
Two U.S. military transport planes brought in supplies and equipment, including machinery for the quick unloading of aircraft. More planes were expected during the day.
"This initial element of 35 people is preparing the way for 400 to 500 professionals ... to be a larger humanitarian relief force which will provide for the reception and distribution of humanitarian relief supplies," a U.S. military spokesman said.
French military helicopters were also flying shuttle missions to and from the northern border town of Kukes, the main collecting point for refugees who were to be transported farther south in Albania.
Medical officials in Kukes told CNN that many of the refugees showed signs of beating by Serb forces and wounds caused by what the refugees said was shelling of their homes by Yugoslav army and police forces.
"We have food coming in (but) we still need more ready-to-eat food," Red Cross delegate Ellem Berg Svennes told CNN in Kukes.
Germany, which currently holds the rotating European Union presidency, said Monday that the EU's main priority was to look after Kosovo refugees on the ground in camps.
British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook told a news conference in London that NATO troops were stepping up coordinated aid efforts with the UNHCR but were also maintaining the NATO bombing campaign against Serb military targets in Yugoslavia.
Cook bluntly warned Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic there would be no peace unless he agreed to reverse his policy of driving ethnic Albanians out of Kosovo.
"Don't bother offering peace unless you are prepared to reverse the ethnic cleansing of the war," Cook said.
"Peace in Kosovo without the population of Kosovo would be a hollow mockery. NATO's campaign will continue until the refugees can return to their homes under international protection," he said.
NATO rushing 31 aid flights to help Kosovo refugees
Extensive list of Kosovo-related sites
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